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Omaha Magazine

Creating an Autumn Display

Jul 01, 2022 10:45AM ● By Patrick McGee
aster flower purple

Photo via iStock

The brilliant colors of fall foliage in the Midwest are iconic. Trees like Autumn Blaze maple, honeylocust, and green ash get much of the glory, but perennial plants and bushes can add splendor in the garden long into the chilly temps as well. With proper selection, gardeners can cultivate sprays with vibrant color and berries to attract birds and pollinators well into November.

Helen Hubbard, a horticultural expert at Lanoha Nurseries, has been playing in the dirt since she was a little girl. She’s also watched many seasons pass through her gardens, and has a few recommendations for fall splendor. 

The first suggestion is the Burning Bush dogwood, with deep green foliage that turns orange and bright red come autumn. After the shrub sheds its leaves, its barren twigs remain colorful and attractive throughout the winter. Hubbard said the shrub prefers well-drained soil and a full-sun exposure for optimum fall color.

Hubbard also suggested Goldmound spirea, an all-season shrub that grows finely toothed chartreuse foliage through the summer months and blooms profusely come fall, when it looks “set on fire” with red and orange leaves.Hubbard said spireas are low maintenance and are commonly used in landscapes. Furthermore, there are many varieties (including compact dwarf sizes), so they can be used as hedges or in the middle or front of the landscape.

Another great pick for color is Viburnum, which turns “fire-engine red” in the fall, Hubbard said. This shrub comes in a variety of sizes, is low-maintenance, and if pollinated properly, produces plentiful berries, giving it extra fall and winter interest. “It is attractive to bird watchers in the winter,” she added.

Many lesser-known trees produce great fall colors, Hubbard said. Ginkgoes, a tree species native to China, express brilliant yellow colors if they don’t defoliate first. What is most amazing about them, Hubbard said, is that they suddenly drop all of their leaves all at once. “It sounds like raining,” she explained. “It’s amazing.” She said the day the ginkgoes defoliate is her favorite day of the year.

For colorful fall flowers, look to sedum, Hubbard said. This succulent-like perennial produces large,  attractive seed heads long after the flowering is over. The Autumn Joy varietal produces bright pink flowers that age into a beautiful copper shade. Sedum prefers full sun in hot, dry areas. Hubbard advised that sedum is a favorite of pollinators and will attract all types, especially bees.

In the fall, asters produce “mounds of flowers” Hubbard said. They come in a variety of colors—white, blue, purple, and pink. Asters flower best in full sun. Migratory butterflies, such as the Painted Lady, will flock to them in early fall.  

The Rose of Sharon flowering shrub is Hubbard’s favorite fall display. “It’s a showstopper when in full flower,” she said. The late summer and fall blooms are like that of hibiscus, but smaller. Different varieties produce pink and blue flowers and bloom until frost. This shrub tolerates sun, but does not thrive in harsh winters and should be planted in a protected location.

There are many more options for fall color in your yard, from ornamental grasses that turn a deep purple to, of course, the hearty mum available in a dozen or more colors. For more recommendations, contact Hubbard at Lanoha Nurseries, or a professional at any metro garden center. 

With a little bit of planning and planting now,  you’ll be able to enjoy new beautiful fall foliage yet this year.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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